A Gift of Words: Guest Post by Oliver Gray

Christmas wreath

I was editing a novel the other day and thinking about how much I enjoy my work, so I posted on Facebook:

“Writing is creative, but revising is like putting together a puzzle, and editing is like wrapping a gift. I love them all!”

Writer Oliver Gray commented, “This is just begging to be turned into an Xmas-themed extended metaphor for the writing process.”

To which I replied, “Do I hear you accepting my invitation for a guest post?”

Lucky for all of us, Oliver did accept my invitation, and you’re in for a special holiday treat:

As I kid, I was notoriously bad at giving gifts. I had a penchant for stealing things that people needed (like my grandfather’s reading glasses, or the communal TV remote), wrapping them up, and giving them back to their owners as gifts on Christmas morning in some attempt to make them more appreciative of the things they already had.

My mom put a stop to my pilfer-gifting pretty quickly.

As I got older, I started to be a little more thoughtful, but just as cheap. To save precious college beer dollars, I would often write presents for people, scrawling down impromptu mock-heroic poems, brief essays on shared memories, even sometimes sappy love notes. These hand-wrought gifts seemed to be cherished (and saved me a lot of money), but it’s only now that I realize how tightly the writing process is tied to the idea of shiny wrapping papers and elaborate bows.

When you sit down to write, it’s like wandering through the mall on the verge of holiday shopping madness. You’ve got a gift in mind, a certain literary something that’s perfect for your significant essay, but nothing quite concrete. So many stores promote their wares, insights, and concepts, and hundreds of thousands of potential ideas brush past you, carrying bags of context as they jingle and mingle in the evergreen and red-ribboned sprawl. As you pass store after store, comparing theme after theme, digging through bargain bins of vocabulary overflowing with 99-cent adverbs and adjectives, you finally stumble upon that perfect piece of sentiment that you know your reader will love.

But that one gift is still missing something. If you gave it to your audience right now, it’d be like giving your love a diamond pendant without a silver chain, or a Kitchen Aid stand mixer without a stainless steel bowl. The gift is thoughtful and clever but incomplete, so you keep shopping. Each new sentence is a visit to yet another store, this time with the main gift in hand, looking for those accompanying metaphors and images that turn your simple theme into a fully realized wordy wonder.

Every stop at a niche boutique gives more meaning to your gift, adds to the emotional weight, improves the thoughtfulness, detracts from the needless fluff. As you spend your creative dollars and ring up sale after mental sale, you amass an assorted but related collection of small gifts that work together as one. Soon all the parts mingle together in a little pile, stacked neatly in an ascending block pyramid of syntactic organization. But no gift is complete without the garnish, without those little touches that take mere words and turn them into purposeful prose.

You pick through your tubes of paper, cardboard swords sharpened with cheer, looking for that perfect pattern to clad your words in. Sometimes the gift calls for wild and shiny, other times muted and simple. With care you turn over each sentence, folding the edges of your edits around the corners of your present, tucking split infinitives out of the way, folding loose phrases into clauses, taping down stubborn dangling participles. You’re careful not to tear the edges of your paragraphs so that the final package is pristine, gilded and golden, ready for the morning of its ultimate opening.

And then your reader unwraps the package you worked so hard to plan and to pick out, either eagerly ripping or painstakingly unfurling, peeking at the contents inside. The reward is a reader who, upon removing that last bit of wrapping paper, brightens with joy and truly appreciates how much thought and effort went into this gift that you’ve personally delivered to them.

A reader who looks at you not as a writer, but as a very thoughtful giver of written gifts.

Oliver Gray was raised in the suburbs of Maryland, and earned his M.A. from The Johns Hopkins University. His essays and stories have been published by Tin House, the Good Men Project, The TJ Eckleberg Review, 20 Something Magazine, and Outside In Literary and Travel Magazine. His beer and writing blog, Literature and Libation, won the North American Guild of Beer Writers’ “Blog of the Year” award in 2013. He currently lives just outside of Washington DC and is working on a beer and brewing themed book.

Christmas wreath courtesy of nirots at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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Candace Johnson is a professional freelance editor, proofreader, writer, ghostwriter, and writing coach who has worked with traditional publishers, self-published authors, and independent book packagers on nonfiction subjects ranging from memoirs to alternative medical treatments to self-help, and on fiction ranging from romance to paranormal. As an editorial specialist, Candace is passionate about offering her clients the opportunity to take their work to the next level. She believes in maintaining an author’s unique voice while helping him or her create and polish every sentence to make it the best it can be. Learn more here.

For more great writing and publishing information, check out  Change It Up Editing and Writing Services on Facebook, where I share interesting articles and links about writing and publishing.


3 thoughts on “A Gift of Words: Guest Post by Oliver Gray”

  1. A gift of writing is a gift that will continue to give long after the writer has passed. The letters I have from my grandmother are my greatest gifts. I enjoyed reading this, Oliver. I see you live outside of D.C. I grew up in Fairfax County.

  2. What a fun post. I laughed out loud when you said you would steal useful items, wrap them and give them back. I’ll be laughing about that all day!

    I love your analogy as well, what fun. It’s kind of interesting because not every gift is for every person, you have to find the right gift or the write gift for the right reader 😉 That concept alone helps take a little pressure of the writer, and that’s a gift right there.

    Happy Christmas!

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